Britain’s Greatest Boxer: Original Photographs of Ted “Kid” Lewis

August 17, 2012.

Boxing champion Ted “Kid” Lewis and his manager, Alec “Zalig” Goodman.

Today’s post is by staff member Glenn Mitchell, who specialises in military and travel, music (particularly jazz), archaeology, and boxing.

We recently acquired a remarkable cache of images, most apparently unique, covering the key period in the career of the British boxing champion Ted “Kid” Lewis. Described by Mike Tyson as “probably the greatest fighter to ever come out of Britain,” he held a world record nine titles at three different weights, and was the first competitor to be elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame. The photographs show his training camps, entourage, and fellow pugilists during his time in America, when he was transformed from the young star of London’s Jewish East End into one of the most respected and heroic figures of the heroic era of the sport; “The Smashing, Dashing, Crashing Kid”. This collection of 32 original photographs seems to have originated with Lewis’s Svengali-like manager Alec “Zalig” Goodman, whose services as what would now be called Lewis’s “nutritionist” allowed the shape-shifting that enabled him to compile his phenomenal multi-division record.

Ted Kid Lewis with sparring partner, manager, and others.

Lewis was born Gershon Mendeloff in 1893, the son of Russian emigrants, and he began his boxing career at the Judaean Athletic Club in London’s East End at age 14. He turned professional in 1909, in 1913 won the British Featherweight Championship with a seventeenth round stoppage of Alec Lambert, and won the the European Championship in 1914.

The period covered by these photographs, 1914 to 1917, is one in which Lewis traveled widely in search of the big cash fights. A tour of Australia yielded 5 fights in 63 days, and a couple of victories over significant opposition. Then, on the look-out for new opportunities, rather then returning home Lewis and Goodman headed off to America, the decision apparently made on the toss of a coin. “TK was later to wonder whether the coin that had been used was a double-tailed one” (Lewis, Ted Kid Lewis: His Life and Times, p57). Here, in August 1915 at the Boston Armory, Lewis defeated Jack Britton, the Boxing Marvel, to win the World Welterweight title. Britton and Lewis were to fight another 19 times over the next 6 years, one of the great rivalries of boxing history.

Lewis (left) and Goodman (right) having fun between bouts in Australia.

Encouraged by the British Embassy to remain in America as propaganda for the British cause in the First World War, Lewis brought his family over to join him in 1916, and in 1917, when America joined the Allies, he signed up and became a boxing instructor with the US Army. The war over, and his title lost to Britton, Lewis returned to England in 1920. He quickly acquired the Middleweight Championship, and the British, British Empire and European Welterweight titles, but his relentless schedule  – he fought over 250 times in 12 years – was beginning to take its toll. In ’21 he failed to regain his title from Britton at Madison Square Garden, and in ’22 he was beaten by Georges Carpentier in an attempt on the World Light-Heavyweight title. He continued to fight until 1929, but never quite recaptured the greatness that he achieved during the war years. In his 100 Greatest Boxers of All Time the late great Bert Sugar rated Lewis as 33rd, putting him ahead of  Jake LaMotta, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Georges Carpentier.

This collection includes many fascinating, and perhaps unique, images drawn from Lewis’s time at training camp in America, one showing him in an extravagant spotted robe with tasselled cord – “Boxing was passing through a fashionable, glamorous phase, Carpentier being the inspiration” (Lewis, p41):

Ted Kid Lewis in an elaborate robe.

Others in typical pugilistic pose:

Ted Kid Lewis

Relaxing on the beach at Staten Island:

Ted Kid Lewis at Staten Island.

At the wheel of a Model T full of passengers at Westchester:

Ted Kid Lewis at the wheel of a Model T.

Posing with his wife Elsie (center), an American model he met in 1915 when she was his arranged date at the Gala opening of the London Social Club in NY:

Ted Kid Lewis and his wife Elsie (center), and Alec Goodman and unknown (left).

There are also a number of pictures of other fighters, many signed or inscribed to Goodman; Jack Greenstock of Bethnal Green, who fought Lewis a number of times in his early days at Judaeans AC:

Jack Greenstock, “with best wishes to my best pal Alec Goodman”.

Al Reich, a New York fighter who in his time took on such notables as  “Fireman” Jim Flynn, “Gunboat” Smith, and Battling Levinsky:

Al Reich, “to my good friend Alec Goodman”.

A very dapper Harry Mason, a Bethnal Green fighter who based himself in Leeds and played the violin and recited poetry before bouts, much to his opponents’ discomfort:

Harry Mason, “to my traner [sic] Alec Goodman”.

Harry Weston and Jack Moy face off at the “first annual field day and open air athletic meet by the Judaean S.A.P.”:

Harry Weston and Jack Moy at the first annual field day and open air athletic meet by the Judaean S.A.P.

An inscribed card from Andre Anderson, who knocked down Jack Dempsey in his first New York fight, and was later shot for his failure to keep his promise to fix a fight:

Andre Anderson, “to my friend and pal A. Goodman”.

Below, Lewis in England with a sparring partner, the photo captioned by Goodman, “Featherweight Champion of England”:

Ted Kid Lewis “Featherweight Champion of England” with sparring partner.

A highly evocative visual document of one of Britain’s few true greats, as “Iron” Mike said – and we would not wish to argue – “you rate a fighter by longevity, and for years Ted Lewis beat the greatest American fighters for years … it’s unbelievable the guys he had to fight! The Who’s Who of Boxing, the greatest of the great, and yet he still prevailed as number one.”

For more on Lewis watch the documentary clip below, which features much original footage of him in training and in the ring, including fights with Britton and Carpentier:

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Laura joined Peter Harrington in 2009 after completing a master's degree in book history at the University of London. Her special interests are science and medicine, modern literature, and the book culture of the medieval and early modern eras.